Co-op fiber projects receive $863,000 in state broadband grants
Amidst the changes that came to everyday life in the Show-Me State during a pandemic, a few truths didn’t waver. Health care professionals, store clerks and countless others provided services Missourians couldn’t do without. Add to that list electric co-ops, who remained committed to keeping lights on, power flowing and rural Missouri connected.
Thanks to grants from the Missouri Broadband Grant Program, that work continues. The program — a joint effort between the Missouri Department of Economic Development and Missouri Department of Agriculture — was established by the state legislature in 2018 and matches 50% of eligible expenses. A Missouri electric co-op and two fiber subsidiaries will receive $863,269. The funds, part of $3.05 million distributed to 16 entities, are intended to bring high-speed internet to an estimated 4,000 Missourians.
The announcement made mid-April by Gov. Mike Parson arrived at a crucial time as many Missourians were instructed to stay at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Undoubtedly, with more people telecommuting to work, school and doctor’s appointments, the need for broadband service in rural areas has never been greater.
In the Tick Creek area of Phelps County, Gascosage Electric Cooperative will extend a new gigabit service to 85 homes through a $402,332 grant.
“It was a game changer for us,” says Gascosage CEO Carmen Hartwell, adding state and federal broadband grants have turned a discussion among Gascosage board members several years ago into a reality that members can afford. “It was no longer ‘Can we do it?’ but ‘What are we waiting for?’ ”
Callabyte Technology, a subsidiary of Callaway Electric Cooperative, will use a $335,806 grant to connect up to 241 homes, farms and businesses in southern Callaway County to gigabit-speed inter-net, telephone and television services.
“It’s kind of a win-win-win,” says CEO Tom How-ard, “and I include three wins because it’s a win for the state of Missouri, which has been working diligently to expand high-speed internet access into rural areas, it’s a win for Callabyte because
it increases our subscriber base and opportunity, and most importantly it’s a win for the people.”
United Services will extend its fiber-to-the-home network to the Bolckow area. The $125,131 grant will connect 106 unserved or underserved users in United Electric Cooperative’s service territory.
“This is another great opportunity to expand critical fiber access to more homes and businesses in the underserved areas of our market,” says Unit-ed CEO Jim Bagley. “We would also like to thank our state senator, Dan Hegeman, for having the vision and persistence to initiate the bill that led to the development of this program.”